For a presidential candidate to be taken seriously, the first trip abroad is a rite of political passage. Ideally, it shows the candidate comfortable on the world stage, against some kind of symbolic setting.
Although it took a while before he decided on a setting, Barack Obama drew his biggest, loudest crowd in Berlin with a rousing speech during the 2008 election. And while George W. Bush might not have had too many stamps in his passport before he took office, there were at least a few trips to Mexico and one visit to Israel in 1998. Until now, Palin’s travel outside the U.S. included visiting American troops in Germany and Kuwait while governor and a trip to Hong Kong last year to give a speech on the economy.
But it’s rare for a candidate to be at the airport gate for an overseas campaign trip while still coy about presidential aspirations.
Sarah Palin, however, seems raring to go.
On Thursday, The Daily Beast learned that the former Alaska governor is going abroad in the new year. At the top of her itinerary: Israel and Britain, countries she has previously said she wants to visit. Before that, she might make a quick stop to Haiti with Rev. Franklin Graham and his relief organization, Samaritan’s Purse, to visit relief sites and a cholera clinic.
Next year’s schedule and itinerary is still being finalized, but an overseas trip could burnish her overseas credentials in preparation for a possible 2012 presidential run.
It used to be that political itineraries needed to include the three Is—Italy, Ireland, and Israel—and of the three, Israel is still a must-go destination. Carly Fiorina, the California contender for Senate, quickly jetted to Israel at the height of her campaign, although she maintained there was nothing political about the trip. And Palin’s potential GOP rival in 2012, Mike Huckabee, has announced that in January he’ll make another trip to the Holy Land—it’ll be his 15th.
Analysts say a trip to Israel is essential—not only for its historical sights and meeting with regional leaders but as much to court favors with people at home. (Palin gave a shout-out to her Jewish supporters during Hanukkah this year, waxing lyrical about the dreidel, which, she reminded her Facebook readers, had letters “representing the phrase Nes Gadol Haya Sham—’a great miracle happened there.’ Indeed a great miracle is still happening there.”) As for Britain, Palin has long wanted to meet the ur-Mama Grizzly, one of her “political heroines,” Margaret Thatcher.
“It will reinforce her bona fides with people who are supportive of her,” said Michael Turk, a GOP communications consultant of the “pilgrimage” to Israel and Britain. But added that for those who don’t like her, a quick trip abroad will amount to no more than “window dressing.”
Robert Jervis, a professor of international politics at Columbia University, doesn’t think it will help her with Jewish voters (who tend to lean Democratic anyway). But he pointed out that Israel plays a key role for another important voting bloc. “The evangelicals are much more important for her,” he said, “more important than Jewish voters.”
During the 2008 presidential election, the then-vice presidential candidate was ridiculed for her limited overseas travel and lack of foreign-policy views. The Saturday Night Live skit, in which Tina Fey said—in character as Palin—”I can see Russia from my house” as evidence for knowledge of foreign affairs, was so popular, many thought the Alaskan governor had actually said it.
On Palin’s foreign-policy team are two allies from her time on the John McCain campaign, Randy Scheunemann and Michael Goldfarb. She espouses her foreign-policy view, where else, but on Facebook? In a post titled “An Open Letter to Republican Freshmen Members of Congress” she tells new members, “You can stand with allies like Israel, not criticize them. You can let the president know what you believe—Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, not a settlement.”
Matthew RJ Brodsky, the Director of Policy at the Jewish Policy Center advised Palin to visit some of the border towns in Israel that have been hit by Hamas and Hezbollah rockets and Israeli settlements (she has called for settlement expansion).
“You get a better sense that everyone is on top of each other. It’s not something that exists thousands of miles away on a far end of your country,” Brodsky said.
Shushannah Walshe covers politics for The Daily Beast. She is the co-author of Sarah From Alaska: The Sudden Rise and Brutal Education of a New Conservative Superstar. She was a reporter and producer at the Fox News Channel from August 2001 until the end of the 2008 presidential campaign.